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on mob rule


We are living in a strange time and one where rampant mobs seem to be more tolerated than dealt with. Peaceful protest is one thing and I will always support the right of people to gather and march in support of a cause regardless of whether I agree with their point of view. But violent protest and damage to property are criminal acts.

For those involved in workplace management (or facilities management as we called it for a while) a plan of some sort is required to deal with the mob should one be encountered. It should be part of the organisation’s risk and crisis planning and taken seriously.

It is a while since I have had to worry about such things, but through the eighties and nineties into the noughties it was my problem and there were times when the biggest problem was not the possibility an unruly mob at the gates, but the unruly mob of senior managers clamouring for action.

There is a notion that the people in the upper echelons of an organisation have qualities above those of the people that they employ. This is basically true, but there are times when all sense of proportion is lost and stupidity takes over.

One example was a building that was under the flight path to an RAF base, our location, given the prevailing winds, normally being under the landing path. Within our disaster plan we had allowed for a normal major emergency evacuation of the type where we would hand over to the emergency services, but the personnel director insisted that we should have a specific plan for an aircraft crashing onto the site. I took the existing plan to the Fire Service who had no comment and then to the liaison officer at the airbase. Over coffee he solved my problem; “Why not just extract that bit of the plan and have it as an appendix with a title like “In the event of an Air Crash” he suggested. I did that and my problem went away.

Another piece of lunacy was the dreaded Millennium Bug. As the nineties ground to a close the threat of computers crashing and all sorts of problems occurring at midnight on the dreaded day were being bandied around. It was thought that there would be widespread civil unrest and that rioting and looting would ensue. This we considered with regard to the city centre properties in the portfolio that I was managing. We would have the normal small teams of security guards in each of these sites and my plan was that these people had a way of safely evacuating themselves in the event of trouble.

The idea was that we would keep the people safe and if a building got trashed then we had business continuity and recovery plans in place, but the likelihood of trouble seemed very remote. My own experience of computer programming and software design from the previous decade was that the century roll-over was covered.

Late one evening just before Christmas I got a call at home from one of the directors based in a City of London site. Effectively they wanted me to be at their building overnight on the 31st December in case of trouble. Quite what I was expected to do if faced by a rioting mob I was not sure, but they were insistent. I was equally firm about not going and I didn’t. Nor did they. Nor did the mob assemble.

Today though it is not a joking matter and there are real threats from mob behaviour that need to be addressed. How you deal with that is up to you if it is your responsibility, but my advice is to think first of the safety of your people. Then brush up on your business continuity and recovery plans so that the relevant people are aware and thinking about what they will need to do. Be realistic and think about what you will do if any part of the plan does not work. Contigency plans for your contingency plan? You had better believe it.

I hope that you have not problems, but good luck if you do. Just remember the golden rule; people before property.

Why am I so keen on planning and preparing for crisis management? I was born to it

September 5, 2011 1 comment

I’ve written here a few times about various aspects of incident management and, as one or two have remarked, maybe I’m a bit of an anorak about these things. They may have a point because, to some extent, incident management has been with me since I was in short trousers.

My childhood was spent living on country estates, more that usually with a farm attached. We didn’t own these places, my parents worked there so that explains my interest in customer service; I was, in fact, born into service. But the incident management side of things comes from that background too. In recent years risk assessments have become a fad in many ways, but they are just a formalisation of what I was taught to do in the late 1950s by people who understood such things intuitively.

So how does what I learned all those years ago down on the farm fit with the management of modern property? Well take one sort of incident management that a typical facilities management team should have down pat, that of fire. One of the things that we handled with considerable frequency was fire. Not just the risk of fire (and I have seen a barn fire at close quarters), but managing fires that we would start on purpose. We would have at least one managed conflagration a week as we burned refuse, burned off fields, bracken or whatever. And when I talk about burning refuse I mean bonfires that the average village would be proud of on November 5th; you can create a huge weekly pile from a 50+ acre estate.

These things are not done willy nilly, they are carefully arranged, taking into account the wind, time of day and nature of what you are burning. A compost heap large enough to keep  Time Team busy excavating it for a week will burn for days if it spontaneously combusts. Siting the bonfire, compost heap or whatever is carefully thought through. Precautions are taken and what you’ll do if things don’t go as planned are worked out. We were taught to understand consequences and about accepting responsibility.

On a farm or large country estate there is a lot of serious kit and danger lurks all around. As kids we were brought up to understand and respect things, so maybe it should be no surprise that it is so ingrained in me. That’s not to say that I don’t take risks; I do, but I think about it first. From what I learned as a child I got to think about things like always checking my escape route(s) when I stay somewhere away from home, like counting the seat rows between me and the nearest two exits when I fly, like my winter survival kit that I carry in the car from November through March.

I had the benefit of learning about these things to the degree that it became automatic. It was only later in life when I became responsible for large numbers of people that I began to think about it and to analyse what I was doing and why as part of developing drills and desktop run throughs. When you have a bloody great fire every week on purpose you are doing it for real, but when you are running big buildings, thankfully, you don’t, so you need to have dummy drills.

Practice does make perfect which is why I have ridden my teams hard on these things, and that is why we coped so well with some of the incidents that have described in these columns. It’s in my blood.